The lion (Panthera leo) is a species in the family Felidae; it is a muscular, deep-chested cat with a short, rounded head, a reduced neck and round ears, and a hairy tuft at the end of its tail. It is sexually dimorphic; male lions have a prominent mane, which is the most recognisable feature of the species. With a typical head-to-body length of 184–208 cm (72–82 in) they are larger than females at 160–184 cm (63–72 in). It is a social species, forming groups called prides. A lion pride consists of a few adult males, related females and cubs. Groups of female lions usually hunt together, preying mostly on large ungulates. The lion is an apex and keystone predator, although some lions scavenge when opportunities occur, and have been known to hunt humans, although the species typically does not.
Typically, the lion inhabits grasslands and savannas but is absent in dense forests. It is usually more diurnal than other big cats, but when persecuted it adapts to being active at night and at twilight. In the Pleistocene, the lion ranged throughout Eurasia, Africa and North America but today it has been reduced to fragmented populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and one critically endangered population in western India. It has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List psince 1996 because populations in African countries have declined by about 43% since the early 1990s. Lion populations are untenable outside designated protected areas. Although the cause of the decline is not fully understood, habitat loss and conflicts with humans are the greatest causes for concern.
One of the most widely recognised animal symbols in human culture, the lion has been extensively depicted in sculptures and paintings, on national flags, and in contemporary films and literature.
Felis leo was the scientific name used by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, who described the lion in his work Systema Naturae. The genus name Panthera was coined by German naturalist Lorenz Oken in 1816. Between the mid-18th and mid-20th centuries, 26 lion specimens were described and proposed as subspecies, of which 11 were recognised as valid in 2005. They were distinguished on the basis of appearance, size and colour of mane. Because these characteristics show much variation between individuals, most of these forms were probably not true subspecies, especially because they were often based upon museum material with "striking, but abnormal" morphological characteristics.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, several lion type specimens were described and proposed as subspecies, with about a dozen recognised as valid taxa until 2017. Between 2008 and 2016, IUCN Red List assessors used only two subspecific names: P. l. leo for African lion populations and P. l. persica for the Asiatic lion population. In 2017, the Cat Classification Task Force of the Cat Specialist Group revised lion taxonomy, and recognises two subspecies based on results of several phylogeographic studies on lion evolution, namely:
- P. l. leo (Linnaeus, 1758) − the nominate lion subspecies includes the Asiatic lion, the regionally extinct Barbary lion, and lion populations in West and northern parts of Central Africa. Synonyms include P. l. persica (Meyer, 1826), P. l. senegalensis (Meyer, 1826), P. l. kamptzi (Matschie, 1900), and P. l. azandica (Allen, 1924). Some authors referred to it as 'Northern lion' and 'northern subspecies'.
- P. l. melanochaita (Smith, 1842) − includes the extinct Cape lion and lion populations in East and Southern African regions. Synonyms include P. l. somaliensis (Noack 1891), P. l. massaica (Neumann, 1900), P. l. sabakiensis (Lönnberg, 1910), P. l. bleyenberghi (Lönnberg, 1914), P. l. roosevelti (Heller, 1914), P. l. nyanzae (Heller, 1914), P. l. hollisteri (Allen, 1924), P. l. krugeri (Roberts, 1929), P. l. vernayi (Roberts, 1948), and P. l. webbiensis (Zukowsky, 1964). It has been referred to as 'southern subspecies'.
Lion samples from some parts of the Ethiopian Highlands cluster genetically with those from Cameroon and Chad, while lions from other areas of Ethiopia cluster with samples from East Africa. Researchers therefore assume that Ethiopia is a contact zone between the two subspecies.
- P. l. sinhaleyus was a fossil carnassial excavated in Sri Lanka, which was attributed to a lion. It is thought to have become extinct around 39,000 years ago.
- P. leo fossilis, P. fossilis or P. spelaea fossilis was larger than the modern lion and lived in the Middle Pleistocene. Bone fragments were excavated in caves in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Czech Republic.
- Panthera spelaea lived in Eurasia and Beringia during the Late Pleistocene. It became extinct due to climate warming latest by 11,900 years ago. Bone fragments excavated in European, North Asian, Canadian and Alaskan caves indicate that it ranged from Europe across Siberia into western Alaska. It likely derived from P. fossilis, and was genetically isolated and highly distinct from the lion in Africa and Asia. It is depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings, ivory carvings, and clay busts.
- P. l. atrox or P. atrox ranged in the Americas from Canada to possibly Patagonia. The American lion arose when a cave lion population in Beringia became isolated south of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet about 370,000 years ago. A fossil from Edmonton dates to 11,355 ± 55 years ago.
The lion's closest relatives are the other species of the genus Panthera, namely tiger, snow leopard, jaguar, and leopard. Results of phylogenetic studies published in 2006 and 2009 indicate that the jaguar and the lion belong to one sister group that diverged about 2.06 million years ago. Results of later studies indicate that the leopard and the lion belong to the same sister group, which diverged 3.1–1.95 million years ago. The geographic origin of the Panthera is most likely northern Central Asia. The leopard-lion clade was distributed in the Asian and African Palearctic since at least the Early Pliocene. The clade consisting of lion and Eurasian cave lion is thought to have diverged in Africa or Holarctic Asia, 2.93–1.23 million years ago. Hybridisation between common ancestors of lion and snow leopard may have continued until about 2.1 million years ago. The Eurasian and American cave lions became extinct at the end of the last glacial period without mitochondrial descendants on other continents.
The modern lion was probably widely distributed in Africa during the Middle Pleistocene and started to diverge in sub-Saharan Africa during the Late Pleistocene. Lion populations in East and Southern Africa became separated from populations in West and North Africa when the equatorial rainforest expanded 183,500–81,800 years ago. The expansion of the Sahara 83,100–26,600 years ago caused the separation of populations in West and North Africa. As the rainforest decreased, thus giving rise to more open habitats, lions moved from West to Central Africa. Lions from North Africa dispersed to southern Europe and Asia 38,800–8,300 ago. Extinction of lions in southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East interrupted gene flow between lion populations in Asia and Africa. Genetic evidence revealed numerous mutations in lion samples from East and Southern Africa, which indicates that this group has a longer evolutionary history than genetically less diverse lion samples from Asia and West and Central Africa. Results of phylogeographic research indicate that the two living lion subspecies diverged about 245,000 years ago.
- P. l. europaea was proposed for subfossil remains of lions excavated in Southern Europe and date to between the Late Neolithic and the Early Iron Age.
- P. l. mesopotamica was described on the basis of a relief from the Neo-Assyrian Period made between 1000 BC and 600 BC in ancient Mesopotamia.
In zoos, lions have been bred with tigers to create hybrids called 'liger' and 'tigon'. Male ligers are sterile but many females are fertile. The liger is much bigger than a lion and a tiger, typically 3.65 m (12.0 ft) in length, and weighing up to 500 kg (1,100 lb). Most tigons are relatively small compared with their parents because of reciprocal gene effects. A lion crossed with a leopard is called a leopon.
The lion is a muscular, deep-chested cat with a short, rounded head, a reduced neck and round ears.
The tail of all lions ends in a dark, hairy tuft that in some lions conceals an approximately 5 mm (0.20 in)-long, hard "spine" or "spur" that is formed from the final, fused sections of tail bone.
Of the living felid species, the lion is rivaled only by the tiger in length, weight and height at the shoulder. Its skull is very similar to that of the tiger, although the frontal region is usually more depressed and flattened, and has a slightly shorter postorbital region and broader nasal openings than those of the tiger. Due to the amount of skull variation in the two species, usually only the structure of the lower jaw can be used as a reliable indicator of species.
The lion's mane is the most recognisable feature of the species. It starts growing when lions are about a year old.
Almost all male West African lions in Pendjari National Park are either maneless or have very short manes. Maneless lions have also been reported in Senegal, in Sudan's Dinder National Park and in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. The original male white lion from Timbavati in South Africa was also maneless. The hormone testosterone has been linked to mane growth; castrated lions often have little to no mane because the removal of the gonads inhibits testosterone production. Increased testosterone may be the cause of maned lionesses reported in northern Botswana.
The lion's mane may have evolved around 320,000–190,000 years ago. Cave paintings of extinct Eurasian cave lions almost exclusively show hunting animals without a mane; some suggest that this is evidence that they were indeed maneless.
The white lion is a rare morph with a genetic condition called leucism that is caused by a double recessive allele. It is not albino; it has normal pigmentation in the eyes and skin. White lions have occasionally been encountered in and around Kruger National Park and the adjacent Timbavati Private Game Reserve in eastern South Africa. They were removed from the wild in the 1970s, thus decreasing the white lion gene pool. Nevertheless, 17 births have been recorded in five prides between 2007 and 2015. White lions are selected for breeding in captivity. They have reportedly been bred in camps in South Africa for use as trophies to be killed during canned hunts.
Distribution and habitat
African lions live in scattered populations across Sub-Saharan Africa.The
In Africa, the range of the lion originally spanned most of the central rainforest zone and the Sahara desert. In the 1960s, it became extinct in North Africa, except in the southern part of Sudan.
In southern Europe and Asia, the lion once ranged in regions where climatic conditions supported an abundance of prey. In Greece, it was common as reported by Herodotus in 480 BC; by 300 BC, it was considered rare and extirpated by 100 AD. Until the 10th century, it ranged in the Caucasus, its last European outpost. It lived in Palestine until the Middle Ages, and in Southwest Asia until the late 19th century. By the late 19th century, it had been extirpated in most of Turkey. The last live lion in Iran was sighted in 1942, about 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Dezful. The corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of the Karun river in Khūzestān Province in 1944. No subsequent reliable records exist from Iran. The lion population in Pakistan India once ranged from Sind and Punjab to Bengal and the Narmada River in Central India.
Behaviour and ecology
Lions spend much of their time resting; they are inactive for about 20 hours per day. Although lions can be active at any time, their activity generally peaks after dusk with a period of socialising, grooming and defecating.
The lion is the most social of all wild felid species, living in groups of related individuals with their offspring.
Some lions are "nomads" that range widely and move around sporadically, either in pairs or alone. Pairs are more frequent among related males who have been excluded from their birth pride.
The area occupied by a pride is called a "pride area" whereas that occupied by a nomad is a "range". Males associated with a pride tend to stay on the fringes, patrolling their territory. The reasons for the development of sociality in lionesses – the most pronounced in any cat species – are the subject of much debate. Increased hunting success appears to be an obvious reason, but this is uncertain upon examination; coordinated hunting allows for more successful predation but also ensures non-hunting members reduce per capita calorific intake. Some females, however, take a role raising cubs that may be left alone for extended periods. Members of the pride tend to regularly play the same role in hunts and hone their skills. The health of the hunters is the primary need for the survival of the pride; hunters are the first to consume the prey at the site it is taken. Other benefits include possible kin selection; sharing food within the family; protecting the young, maintaining territory and individual insurance against injury and hunger.
Both males and females defend the pride against intruders, but the male lion is better-suited for this purpose due to its stockier, more powerful build.
Asiatic lion prides differ in group composition.
The lion is a generalist hypercarnivore and is considered to be both an apex and keystone predator due to its wide prey spectrum. Its prey consists mainly of mammals – particularly ungulates – weighing 190–550 kg (420–1,210 lb) with a preference for blue wildebeest, plains zebra, African buffalo, gemsbok and giraffe. Lions also hunt common warthog depending on availability, although the species is below the preferred weight range. In India, sambar deer and chital are the most commonly recorded wild prey, while domestic livestock may contribute significantly to their diet. They usually avoid fully grown adult elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamus, as well as small prey like dik-dik, hyrax, hare and vervet monkey. Unusual prey items include porcupines and small reptiles. Lions kill other predators such as leopard, cheetah and spotted hyena but seldom consume them.
Young lions first display stalking behaviour at around three months of age, although they do not participate in hunting until they are almost a year old and begin to hunt effectively when nearing the age of two. Single lions are capable of bringing down prey much larger than themselves, such as zebra and wildebeest, while larger prey like buffalo and giraffes are riskier. In Chobe National Park, large prides have been observed hunting subadult and even adult African bush elephants. In typical hunts, each lioness has a favoured position in the group, either stalking prey on the "wing", then attacking, or moving a smaller distance in the centre of the group and capturing prey fleeing from other lionesses. Males attached to prides do not usually participate in group hunting. Some evidence suggests, however, that males are just as successful as females; they are typically solo hunters who ambush prey in small bushland.
Lions are not particularly known for their stamina; for instance, a lioness' heart comprises only 0.57% of her body weight and a male's is about 0.45% of his body weight, whereas a hyena's heart comprises almost 1% of its body weight. Thus, lions only run quickly in short bursts and need to be close to their prey before starting the attack. They take advantage of factors that reduce visibility; many kills take place near some form of cover or at night. The lion's attack is short and powerful; they attempt to catch prey with a fast rush and final leap, and usually kill prey by strangulation, which can cause cerebral ischemia or asphyxia and results in hypoxaemia or hypoxia. They also kill prey by enclosing its mouth and nostrils in their jaws, which also results in asphyxia.
Lions typically consume prey at the location of the hunt but sometimes drag large prey into cover. They tend to squabble over kills, particularly the males.
Lions scavenge on carrion when the opportunity arises; they scavenge animals dead from natural causes such as disease or those that were killed by other predators.
Lions and spotted hyenas occupy a similar ecological niche and where they coexist they compete for prey and carrion; a review of data across several studies indicates a dietary overlap of 58.6%. Lions typically ignore spotted hyenas unless the lions are on a kill or are being harassed by the hyenas, while the latter tend to visibly react to the presence of lions, with or without the presence of food.
Lions tend to dominate cheetahs and leopards, steal their kills and kill their cubs and even adults when given the chance. Cheetahs in particular often lose their kills to lions or other predators. A study in the Serengeti ecosystem revealed that lions killed at least 17 of 125 cheetah cubs born between 1987 and 1990. Cheetahs avoid their competitors by using different temporal and habitat niches. Leopards are able to take refuge in trees; lionesses, however, occasionally attempt to retrieve leopard kills from trees. Lions similarly dominate African wild dogs, taking their kills and preying on young and rarely adult dogs. Population densities of wild dogs are low in areas where lions are more abundant. However, there are a few reported cases of old and wounded lions falling prey to wild dogs. Lions also charge at Nile crocodiles; depending on the size of the crocodile and the lion, either can lose kills or carrion to the other. Lions have been observed killing crocodiles that ventured onto land. Lions also enter waterways, evidenced by the occasional lion claw found in crocodile stomachs.
Most lionesses reproduce by the time they are four years of age. Lions do not mate at a specific time of year and the females are polyestrous. Like those of other cats, the male lion's penis has spines that point backward. During withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which may cause ovulation. A lioness may mate with more than one male when she is in heat. Generation length of the lion is about seven years. The average gestation period is around 110 days; the female gives birth to a litter of between one and four cubs in a secluded den, which may be a thicket, a reed-bed, a cave, or some other sheltered area, usually away from the pride. She will often hunt alone while the cubs are still helpless, staying relatively close to the den. Lion cubs are born blind – their eyes open around seven days after birth. They weigh 1.2–2.1 kg (2.6–4.6 lb) at birth and are almost helpless, beginning to crawl a day or two after birth and walking around three weeks of age. To avoid a buildup of scent attracting the attention of predators, the lioness moves her cubs to a new den site several times a month, carrying them one-by-one by the nape of the neck.
Usually, the mother does not integrate herself and her cubs back into the pride until the cubs are six to eight weeks old. Sometimes this introduction to pride life occurs earlier, particularly if other lionesses have given birth at about the same time. When first introduced to the rest of the pride, lion cubs lack confidence when confronted with adults other than their mother. They soon begin to immerse themselves in the pride life, however, playing among themselves or attempting to initiate play with the adults. Lionesses with cubs of their own are more likely to be tolerant of another lioness's cubs than lionesses without cubs. Male tolerance of the cubs varies – sometimes a male will patiently let the cubs play with his tail or his mane, whereas another may snarl and bat the cubs away.
Pride lionesses often synchronise their reproductive cycles and communal rearing and suckling of the young, which suckle indiscriminately from any or all of the nursing females in the pride.
When one or more new males oust the previous males associated with a pride, the victors often kill any existing young cubs, perhaps because females do not become fertile and receptive until their cubs mature or die. Females often fiercely defend their cubs from a usurping male but are rarely successful unless a group of three or four mothers within a pride join forces against the male. Cubs also die from starvation and abandonment, and predation by leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. Up to 80% of lion cubs will die before the age of two. Both male and female lions may be ousted from prides to become nomads, although most females usually remain with their birth pride. When a pride becomes too large, however, the youngest generation of female cubs may be forced to leave to find their own territory. When a new male lion takes over a pride, adolescent lions – both male and female – may be evicted. Lions of both sexes may be involved in group homosexual and courtship activities; males will also head-rub and roll around with each other before simulating sex together.
Although adult lions have no natural predators, evidence suggests most die violently from attacks by humans or other lions. Lions often inflict serious injuries on members of other prides they encounter in territorial disputes or members of the home pride when fighting at a kill. Crippled lions and cubs may fall victim to hyenas and leopards or be trampled by buffalo or elephants. Careless lions may be maimed when hunting prey.
Ticks commonly infest the ears, neck and groin regions of lions. Adult forms of several species of the tapeworm genus Taenia have been isolated from lion intestines, having been ingested as larvae in antelope meat. Lions in the Ngorongoro Crater were afflicted by an outbreak of stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans) in 1962; this resulted in lions becoming emaciated and covered in bloody, bare patches. Lions sought unsuccessfully to evade the biting flies by climbing trees or crawling into hyena burrows; many died or migrated and the local population dropped from 70 to 15 individuals. A more recent outbreak in 2001 killed six lions.
Captive lions have been infected with canine distemper virus (CDV) since at least the mid 1970s. CDV is spread by domestic dogs and other carnivores; a 1994 outbreak in Serengeti National Park resulted in many lions developing neurological symptoms such as seizures. During the outbreak, several lions died from pneumonia and encephalitis. Feline immunodeficiency virus and lentivirus also affect captive lions.
When resting, lion socialisation occurs through a number of behaviours; the animal's expressive movements are highly developed.
Lions have an array of facial expressions and body postures that serve as visual gestures. A common facial expression is the "grimace face" or flehmen response, which a lion makes when sniffing chemical signals and involves an open mouth with bared teeth, raised muzzle, wrinkled nose closed eyes and relaxed ears. Lions also use chemical and visual marking; males will spray and scrape plots of ground and objects within the territory.
The lion's repertoire of vocalisations is large; variations in intensity and pitch appear to be central to communication.
Several large and well-managed protected areas in Africa host large lion populations.
In the Republic of the Congo, Odzala-Kokoua National Park was considered a lion stronghold in the 1990s. By 2014, no lions were recorded in the protected area so the population is considered locally extinct. The West African lion population is isolated from the one in Central Africa, with little or no exchange of breeding individuals. In 2015, it was estimated that this population consists of about 400 animals, including fewer than 250 mature individuals. They persist in three protected areas in the region, mostly in one population in the W A P protected area complex, shared by Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. This population is listed as Critically Endangered. Field surveys in the WAP ecosystem revealed that lion occupancy is lowest in the W National Park, and higher in areas with permanent staff and thus better protection. A population occurs in Cameroon's Waza National Park, where between approximately 14 and 21 animals persisted as of 2009. In addition, 50 to 150 lions are estimated to be present in Burkina Faso's Arly-Singou ecosystem. In 2015, an adult male lion and a female lion were sighted in Ghana's Mole National Park. These were the first sightings of lions in the country in 39 years.
In 2005, Lion Conservation Strategies were developed for West and Central Africa, and or East and Southern Africa.
The last refuge of the Asiatic lion population is the 1,412 km2 (545 sq mi) Gir Forest National Park and surrounding areas in the region of Saurashtra or Kathiawar Peninsula in Gujarat State, India. The population has risen from approximately 180 lions in 1974 to about 400 in 2010. It is geographically isolated, which can lead to inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity. Since 2008, the Asiatic lion has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. By 2015, the population had grown to 523 individuals inhabiting an area of 7,000 km2 (2,700 sq mi) in Saurashtra. The Asiatic Lion Census conducted in 2017 recorded about 650 individuals.
The presence of numerous human habitations close to the National Park results in conflict between lions, local people and their livestock. Some consider the presence of lions a benefit, as they keep populations of crop damaging herbivores in check. The establishment of a second, independent Asiatic lion population in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary, located in Madhya Pradesh was planned but in 2017, the Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project seemed unlikely to be implemented.
Lions imported to Europe before the middle of the 19th century were possibly foremost Barbary lions from North Africa, or Cape lions from Southern Africa. Another 11 animals thought to be Barbary lions kept in Addis Ababa Zoo are descendants of animals owned by Emperor Haile Selassie. WildLink International in collaboration with Oxford University launched an ambitious International Barbary Lion Project with the aim of identifying and breeding Barbary lions in captivity for eventual reintroduction into a national park in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. However, a genetic analysis showed that the captive lions at Addis Ababa Zoo were not Barbary lions, but rather closely related to wild lions in Chad and Cameroon.
In 1982, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums started a Species Survival Plan for the Asiatic lion to increase its chances of survival. In 1987, it was found that most lions in North American zoos were hybrids between African and Asiatic lions. Breeding programs need to note origins of the participating animals to avoid cross-breeding different subspecies and thus reducing their conservation value. Captive breeding of lions was halted to eliminate individuals of unknown origin and pedigree. Wild-born lions were imported to American zoos from Africa between 1989 and 1995. Breeding was continued in 1998 in the frame of an African lion Species Survival Plan.
About 77% of the captive lions registered in the International Species Information System in 2006 were of unknown origin; these animals might have carried genes that are extinct in the wild and may therefore be important to the maintenance of the overall genetic variability of the lion.
Interactions with humans
Lions are part of a group of exotic animals that have been central to zoo exhibits since the late 18th century.
The first European "zoos" spread among noble and royal families in the 13th century, and until the 17th century were called seraglios; at that time they came to be called menageries, an extension of the cabinet of curiosities. They spread from France and Italy during the Renaissance to the rest of Europe. In England, although the seraglio tradition was less developed, lions were kept at the Tower of London in a seraglio established by King John in the 13th century; this was probably stocked with animals from an earlier menagerie started in 1125 by Henry I at his hunting lodge in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, where according to William of Malmesbury lions had been stocked.
Lions were kept in cramped and squalid conditions at London Zoo until a larger lion house with roomier cages was built in the 1870s. Further changes took place in the early 20th century when Carl Hagenbeck designed enclosures with concrete "rocks", more open space and a moat instead of bars, more closely resembling a natural habitat. Hagenbeck designed lion enclosures for both Melbourne Zoo and Sydney's Taronga Zoo; although his designs were popular, the use of bars and caged enclosures prevailed in many zoos until the 1960s. In the late 20th century, larger, more natural enclosures and the use of wire mesh or laminated glass instead of lowered dens allowed visitors to come closer than ever to the animals; some attractions such as the Cat Forest/Lion Overlook of Oklahoma City Zoological Park placed the den on ground level, higher than visitors.
Lion taming has been part of both established circuses and individual acts such as Siegfried & Roy. The practice began in the early 19th century by Frenchman Henri Martin and American Isaac Van Amburgh, who both toured widely and whose techniques were copied by a number of followers. Van Amburgh performed before Queen Victoria in 1838 when he toured Great Britain. Martin composed a pantomime titled Les Lions de Mysore ("the lions of Mysore"), an idea that Amburgh quickly borrowed. These acts eclipsed equestrianism acts as the central display of circus shows and entered public consciousness in the early 20th century with cinema. In demonstrating the superiority of human over animal, lion taming served a purpose similar to animal fights of previous centuries. The ultimate proof of a tamer's dominance and control over a lion is demonstrated by the placing of the tamer's head in the lion's mouth. The now-iconic lion tamer's chair was possibly first used by American Clyde Beatty (1903–1965).
Lion hunting has occurred since ancient times and was often a royal pastime; intended to demonstrate the power of the king over nature.
The Maasai people have traditionally viewed the killing of lions as a rite of passage. Historically, lions were hunted by individuals, however, due to reduced lion populations, elders discourage solo lion hunts. During the European colonisation of Africa in the 19th century, the hunting of lions was encouraged because they were considered as vermin and lion hides fetched £1 each. The widely reproduced imagery of the heroic hunter chasing lions would dominate a large part of the century. Trophy hunting of lions in recent years has been met with controversy; notably with the killing of Cecil the lion in mid-2015.
Lions do not usually hunt humans but some – usually males – seem to seek them out.
In their analysis of man-eating – including the Tsavo incident – Kerbis Peterhans and Gnoske acknowledge that sick or injured animals may be more prone to man-eating but that the behaviour is "not unusual, nor necessarily 'aberrant'" where the opportunity exists; if inducements such as access to livestock or human corpses are present, lions will regularly prey upon human beings.
The lion's proclivity for man-eating has been systematically examined.
According to Robert R. Frump, Mozambican refugees regularly crossing Kruger National Park, South Africa, at night are attacked and eaten by lions; park officials have said man-eating is a problem there.
The lion is one of the most widely recognised animal symbols in human culture.
Depictions of lions are known from the Upper Paleolithic period. Carvings and paintings of lions discovered in the Lascaux and Chauvet Caves in France have been dated to 15,000 to 17,000 years old. A lioness-headed ivory carving found in Vogelherd cave in the Swabian Alb, south-west Germany, is dubbed Löwenmensch (lion-human) in German. The sculpture has been dated to least 32,000 years old – and as early as 40,000 years ago –  and originated from the Aurignacian culture.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the lion has been a common character in stories, proverbs and dances, but rarely featured in visual arts. In some cultures, the lion symbolises power and royalty. In Swahili language, the lion is known as simba which also means "aggressive", "king" and "strong". Some rulers had the word "lion" in their nickname. Sundiata Keita of the Mali Empire was called "Lion of Mali". The founder of the Waalo kingdom is said to have been raised by lions and returned to his people part-lion to unite them using the knowledge he learned from the lions.
In parts of West Africa, lions symbolised the top class of their social hierarchies. In more heavily forested areas where lions were rare, the leopard represented the top of the hierarchy. In parts of West and East Africa, the lion is associated with healing and is regarded as the link between seers and the supernatural. In other East African traditions, the lion is the symbol of laziness. In African folklore, the lion is portrayed as having low intelligence and is easily tricked by other animals.
The ancient Egyptians portrayed several of their war deities as lionesses, which they revered as fierce hunters. Egyptian deities associated with lions include Sekhmet, Bast, Mafdet, Menhit, Pakhet and Tefnut. These deities were often connected with the sun god Ra and his fierce heat, and their dangerous power was invoked to guard people or sacred places. The sphinx, a figure with a lion's body and the head of a human or other creature, represented a pharaoh or deity who had taken on this protective role.
The lion was a prominent symbol in ancient Mesopotamia from Sumer up to Assyrian and Babylonian times, where it was strongly associated with kingship. Lions were among the major symbols of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar. The Lion of Babylon was the foremost symbol of the Babylonian Empire. The Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal is a famous sequence of Assyrian palace reliefs from c. 640 BC, now in the British Museum. The Lion of Judah is the biblical emblem of the tribe of Judah and the later Kingdom of Judah. Lions are frequently mentioned in the Bible; notably in the Book of Daniel in which the eponymous hero refuses to worship King Darius and is forced to sleep in the lions' den where he is miraculously unharmed (Dan 6  ). In the Book of Judges, Samson kills a lion as he travels to visit a Philistine woman.(Judg 14  ).
Indo-Persian chroniclers regarded the lion as keeper of order in the realm of animals.
The lion is a common motif in Chinese art; it was first used in art during the late Spring and Autumn period (fifth or sixth century BC) and became more popular during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) when imperial guardian lions started to be placed in front of imperial palaces for protection. Because lions have never been native to China, early depictions were somewhat unrealistic; after the introduction of Buddhist art to China in the Tang Dynasty after the sixth century AD, lions were usually depicted wingless with shorter, thicker bodies and curly manes. The lion dance is a traditional dance in Chinese culture in which performers in lion costumes mimic a lion's movements, often with musical accompaniment from cymbals, drums and gongs. They are performed at Chinese New Year, the August Moon Festival and other celebratory occasions for good luck.
Singapore derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pora (city/fortress), which in turn is from the Tamil-Sanskrit சிங்க singa सिंह siṃha and पुर புர pura, which is cognate to the Greek πόλις, pólis.
Lion-headed figures and amulets were excavated in tombs in the Greek islands of Crete, Euboea, Rhodes, Paros and Chios. They are associated with the Egyptian deity Sekhmet and date to the early Iron Age between the 9th and 6th centuries BC. The lion is featured in several of Aesop's fables, notably The Lion and the Mouse. The Nemean lion was symbolic in ancient Greece and Rome, represented as the constellation and zodiac sign Leo, and described in mythology, where its skin was worn by the hero Heracles, symbolising victory over death. Lancelot and Gawain were also heroes slaying lions in the Middle Ages. In some medieval stories, lions were portrayed as allies and companions. "Lion" was the nickname of several medieval warrior-rulers with a reputation for bravery, such as Richard the Lionheart. Lions are frequently depicted on coats of arms, either as a device on shields or as supporters, but the lioness is used much less frequently.
Lions continue to appear in modern literature as characters including the messianic Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis,Companion%20to%20Narnia%3A%20Revised%20E]]nd the comedy Cowardly Lion L. Frank Baum  advent of cinema; one of the most iconic and widely recognised lions is Leo, which has been the mascot for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios since the 1920s. The movie Born Free features Elsa the lioness and is based on the non-fiction book with the same title. The lion's role as king of the beasts has been used in the animated feature film The Lion King.